Mar 26, 2014
Don’t Fear the Fat
As a culture, we tend to suffer from the angel-or-devil mindset when it comes to food. For 40 years now- saturated fat- found in meat, cheese and other full-fat dairy products- has been one our top nutritional demons.
The U.S Dietary Guidelines promote limitation of saturated fat because it raises the risk of heart disease. But after decades of research, a growing number of experts are questioning this link.
When researchers have tracked people’s saturated fat intake over time and then followed up to see whether higher intake increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes, they haven’t found a clear, consistent link. What is now thought to be a more important indicator of risk is the ratio a person has of LDL to HDL (the good cholesterol). There’s evidence that, compared with carbohydrates, saturated fat can increase HDL and lower fat deposits in the blood called triglycerides, which, in theory, would be protective against heart disease.
Dariush Mozaffarian of the Harvard School of Public Health said, “There were definitely unintended, harmful consequences of the low-fat craze.” The fat-free boom in the early 1990’s, resulted in many Americans supplementing a low fat diet with lots of carbohydrates. All of the calories from refined grains (fat-free bagels and low-fat cookies…) led lots of folks to gain weight.
According to Mozaffarian, a healthful diet, should include a wide variety of minimally processed, whole foods such as nuts and vegetable and olive oils (which have some saturated fat), as well as fish, fruits, vegetables and small portions of animal products such as yogurt and cheese. (Surprisingly, the health-promoting Mediterranean-style diet has about 45 percent of calories from fat, including small amounts of meat.)
So, if you're still asking the question — is saturated fat good or bad? — the answer, Mozaffarian says, depends on what you're eating instead. He points to another study that found replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates has no benefits. Also, too many calories from any source, whether it’s fact or carbs can lead to weight gain. And the extra weight increases the risk for heart disease.
Deborah Wiancek, N.D. Deborah Wiancek